YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!
By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace
QUESTION: For years several couples have had dinner together and split the bill evenly. Lately, one couple has ordered very expensive wine and still split the bill evenly, although no one else drank the wine. We want to say something, but don’t want to hurt feelings. Are we wrong to think they should pay for their own wine, and split the dinner bill or suggest we pay our own bills without saying why?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Clearly you are annoyed or upset with this couple for ordering a nice bottle of wine. My question is, why haven’t you drunk the wine? Are you hoping they will say something about splitting the bill? If it is upsetting you or annoying you enough then split it up by couple. Otherwise, join in on the nice bottle!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: It sounds like a little bit of communication in advance can clear this right up, especially since you all have been friends for years. Don’t assume anything sinister with your friends in trying to resolve it. Sometimes, though, in groups like that, everything evens out eventually. Maybe they’re ordering the expensive wine this time, but next time you’re the one ordering the expensive dish.
However, if they’re consistently ordering pricey wine, gently suggest ahead of time that everyone pays for their own alcohol or that instead of splitting the bill, each couple gets their own. Depending on the group, you could even mention casually that you’re on a budget but still wanted to enjoy your friends.
I have, at times, purposely avoided ordering wine in order to save money, but I was in groups where everyone got separate checks. In any case, I am always thankful for the chance to spend time with friends, whether I’m watching my budget closely at that time or not.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Since I am not much of a wine drinker, I would probably say that to the couple, and that I would be paying for my own drinks separately. It seems to me that if someone wants an expensive bottle of wine, they should order it separately, and share it if they want to, but pay for it, as they don’t know about the other people at their table.
If they are longtime friends with everyone in the group and everyone drinks the same thing and enjoys the more expensive wine, then it can go on the bill. But they need to all be on the same page.
It is a little insensitive for one couple to act like they know more about wine than everyone else. They might know more, but everyone should have a say about how much they want to spend on any particular night. Maybe it IS time for everyone to pay their own bills. Politely communicate to all the couples your thoughts before the next dinner.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, journalist and local community volunteer: Spending time with friends is one of life’s greatest luxuries. It would be a shame to end such a great tradition based one couple’s desire to employ the old “dollar cost averaging” bill tactic.
I personally find this thoughtless and insensitive but these days most people are most concerned with moi (translate that to the me, me, me world).
So with that in mind, my suggestion is to pick up the phone and have a friendly conversation before the next dinner. Head off a conflict by casually and diplomatically mentioning the issue. Engaging in a direct dialogue can help to communicate your message.
By enlightening your friend, you might gain some insight into their decision-making, too. The response may surprise you. Perhaps they didn’t realize how much more the wine added to the cost of the meal. Maybe they hoped everyone would share their sense of adventure and try a new wine.
With this in mind, now you don’t have to blow a cork. And as for the wine aficionados, it may just be best for them to bring some shiny plastic or extra cash.
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.